Celebrating Greek heritage

By MARG JACKSON

Two weekends in September will offer you a little taste of Greece — without leaving the 209.

St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church in Stockton and Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Modesto will both put on their annual Greek Festivals, with Sept. 7, 8 and 9 the dates for St. Basil and Sept. 15 and 16 set aside for the festival at Annunciation.

“It’s an annual event for us and this is year 59,” explained St. Basil office administrator Eleni Zarefakis. “It’s a glimpse into our heritage and culture.”

St. Basil is at 920 W. March Lane in Stockton and the weekend festival runs from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sept. 7; from noon to 11 p.m. Sept. 8; and from noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 9.

The festival features plenty of Greek food, from gyros to baklava, vendors selling a variety of cultural and non-cultural items, and there are also some other cultures represented, from American to Arabic. The church itself is open for tours and parishioners staff the event.

“Every food item, every pastry is handmade by our members,” Zarefakis explained. “We also have a Greek band, a DJ plays Greek music and Greek dancing is performed by our youth dancers.”

The festival also has vegan and vegetarian food available so all can come and enjoy.

There is a $3 entry fee and tickets can be purchased inside for food and beverages. With the purchase of a $20 book of tickets, guests get one free entry into the festival.

Reverend Father Panagiotis Sotiras has been with St. Basil for about five years and helps lead the church tours.

Youth dancers from the St. Basil parish and neighboring parishes come to perform, with the dancing in the afternoon.

“We usually have a little over 10,000 people attend,” Zarefakis added.

She urged those planning to attend the festival to get there early.

“Sunday we run out of a lot of things,” she said.

For additional information, call the church at 209-478-7564.

Always the third weekend in September, the festival at Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Modesto will run from noon to 8 p.m. on Sept. 15 and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sept. 16. The church is at 313 Tokay Ave., Modesto.

The festival features a full meal and the ticket includes a chicken dinner with rice, green peas, bread, salad and the traditional baklava for dessert. Pre-sale tickets can be purchased up until the day before the event and are $15; tickets at the door are $18. For kids under 12, tickets are $9.

“They get the exact same meal,” said Annunciation office secretary Dimitra Wilson.

She said the festival has a flow to it, with dinner seatings running on a schedule where they fill the dining room, serve the dinner and then move that group out and bring in another.

“We’ve got it down,” Wilson said. “A well-oiled machine.”

Along with the dinner, there is plenty of entertainment with Greek bands and dancers set up outside the church, providing a sample of Greek culture. Kids from the church that perform start working on the routines at the start of the summer to get ready for the September festival performances and for later competition, next February. The dancers start young, said Wilson, and the show the dancers put on showcases Greek music and pageantry.

“We also offer church tours and we have a marketplace that is full of icons, books, jewelry … we have outside vendors and some people from the church,” Wilson explained. “Outside we also have extra pastries, coffee, ice cream and sodas.”

The festival has been going on for more than 50 years and Reverend Father Jon Magoulias has been serving at Annunciation for over 30 years.

All are welcome to attend the festival and Wilson said they have many people that return to the Greek festival year after year.

“It is very open to all the community,” she said. “People come from near and far, we have people come from Oregon to Los Angeles.”

The chance to take in some Greek culture, enjoy the music, savor the food and share in the celebration keeps the crowds coming.

To get pre-sale tickets, go to www.goannunciation.org and follow the prompts. For more information call the church at 209-522-7694.

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